It appears the Congressional Indicted Republican Caucus membership will boast another member in 2019.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who made national headlines earlier this year after he was arrested and indicted for felony insider trading charges, is declaring victory in his re-election bid for western New York’s very conservative 27th congressional district.
The last absentee ballots were counted in Erie County late into Tuesday, and though Democratic challenger Nate McMurray narrowed Collins’ already-narrow lead even further to 1,384 votes, election officials declared Collins the apparent winner unless McMurray pursues legal action. It was still by far the closest election in the district in recent memory.
McMurray said in a statement released on Wednesday afternoon that he was watching the few remaining-to-be-counted votes with an eye on a 0.5 percent margin that could trigger a recount:
Today, the Erie County Board will complete their counting of votes. Right now, it appears that the difference is less than 0.5%, a margin that would, in many counties and states, trigger an automatic recount. We will confer with our attorneys and review the numbers to determine our next course of action. We have seen extensive irregularities in the voting process, especially pertaining to absentee ballots, and there are issues that need to be addressed not only for this election but for all elections in the future to ensure voters are not disenfranchised and that every voice is heard.
He said the election set “the stage for years to come” and that he would announce his future plans on Monday.
Collins suspended his campaign on August 11 after he was indicted on charges related to securities fraud after he allegedly helped his son and an accomplice engage in insider trading related to a biotech company in which they had invested. Federal prosecutors allege Collins leaked information about a failed drug trial to his son and associate, who then sold shares before the news became public and the stock dropped to zero — allowing them to avoid $700,000 in losses.
After a failed fight by local party officials to replace Collins on the ballot with anyone else, he announced on September 19 that he would campaign for re-election. He avoided the topic of his indictment and primarily framed his run around the need to keep the seat in “Republican hands,” using the slogan “#VoteRed.”
It's great to be back on the campaign trail meeting with constituents across NY-27. Voters have a clear choice in November. We must keep this seat in Republican hands to continue advancing President Trump's America first agenda. pic.twitter.com/PFE5QxxTWZ
— Chris Collins (@CollinsNY27) September 22, 2018
Collins’ campaign was primarily conducted over the airwaves, with TV and radio advertisements attacking McMurray as too liberal. Collins refused to debate McMurray and his Twitter feed showed very limited public open campaigning.
What started as a long-shot bid for McMurray, the town supervisor of Buffalo suburb Grand Island, quickly turned into a crash course in running against against a Republican incumbent draped in the murky cloak of felony corruption charges. New York’s 27th district is the most conservative in the state, rated R+11 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index.
“We knew a blue wave was going to happen [this year] anyway,” McMurray told ThinkProgress in August. “On top of that, we now got all these crooks, looking like jokers. We have to take advantage of this.”
McMurray ran on a progressive platform, but he kept a close eye on the district and kept the race close by campaigning energetically and co-opting Trump’s messaging. He translated progressive policy for Trump voters to make the case that the economic ideas that originally got them excited about Trump’s message are actually rooted in Democratic party traditions.
McMurray tweeted early Wednesday morning amid an apparent post-election cold-weather run (a run reminiscent of another youthful progressive politician running an uphill fight in deeply conservative territory who just barely fell short and is now considering his political future), “Enough condolences guys. Cheer up!”
I’m up. Running in the snow. Enough condolences guys. Cheer up!
You’d think I was indicted and going to jail or something…
Good things to come. More news soon…just need to talk to some folks first, and eat some turkey with my family 🦃
Smile. Be 💪🏻. Be thankful 🙏.
— Nate McMurray for Congress (@Nate_McMurray) November 21, 2018
Collins may be returning to Congress, but his future is unstable. His trial is scheduled for February 2020. He could be required to leave office to face punishment if he is found guilty, or be censured by his colleagues, or be forced to resign. It’s unclear to what extent congressional leadership will permit him to participate in his normal committee and political work while a verdict is pending, or if he will recuse himself from votes on things like criminal justice reform legislation.
According to a public statement from Collins’ campaign, he “has already returned to work and looks forward to continuing to do the work of the people of the 27th Congressional district.”
He will be joining a fellow indicted colleague, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who won re-election this month while facing campaign finance charges. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) was also re-elected under indictment for felony securities fraud.